Patronym

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Patronym (also patronymic) is a combination of Ancient Greek πατήρ (pater) = 'father' and ὄνομα (onoma) = 'name'.

It literally means 'named from the father'. See also Matronym.

Primary Patronyms

Primary patronyms or real patronyms were used in the Nordic countries until naming laws forbid their usage when the use of hereditary surnames became mandatory:

  • Denmark: 1828
  • Sweden: 1901
  • Norway: 1923

Nowadays, it is possible again to use real patronyms/matronyms, as the name laws have changed again.

In Iceland, on the other hand, primary patronyms are mandatory while secondary patronyms and other surnames are forbidden.

Primary patronyms are not hereditary and refer directly to the name of the father.

To create a Nordic patronymic name, the following suffixes are usually added to the genitive form, sometimes (often in Danish) to the nominative form of the first name of the father. Also the given name of the mother can be used (matronym) if the father is unknown or due to other personal reasons.

Language Suffix 'son' Suffix 'daughter'
Old Norse Old Norse -son -dóttir
Denmark Danish -sen -datter
Faroe Islands Faroese -son -dóttir
Finland Finnish -poika -tytär
Iceland Icelandic -son -dóttir
Norway Norwegian -sen/-son/-søn -datter/-dotter
Sweden Swedish -son -dotter

Secondary Patronyms

Secondary patronyms are "frozen" primary patronyms which became hereditary.

When the use of hereditary surnames became mandatory in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, people who did not already had a surname just "froze" their primary patronym so that their children could inherit it. The female suffixes meaning 'daughter' were abandoned and only the suffixes meaning 'son' survived (with a very few exceptions).

Primary Patronyms vs. Secondary Patronyms

Example of Primary Patronyms

Siblings (one female and one male) through the generations

1. generation 2. generation 3. generation 4. generation 5. generation
Kristín Elíasdóttir
Ólafur Elíasson Árna Ólafsdóttir
Helgi Ólafsson Hildur Helgadóttir
Birgir Helgason Anna Birgisdóttir
Jón Birgisson Björk Jónsdóttir
Ketill Jónsson

Example of Secondary Patronyms

Siblings (one female and one male) through the generations

1. generation 2. generation 3. generation 4. generation 5. generation
Kerstin Persdotter
Olof Persson Arna Persson
Helge Persson Hilda Persson
Birger Persson Anna Persson
Johan Persson Birgitta Persson
Kjell Persson